Policy consequences of Trump re-election loom large for wildlife
President Trump’s assaults on environmental safeguards and the health of our communities have been fairly well documented, but the effects of those attacks are not limited to humans; animals are taking it on the chin, too. For one thing, practically all endangered species are vulnerable to climate change, and Trump’s fossil fuel-driven agenda amounts to an enormous greenhouse-gas pollution bomb that may take our climate crisis past the point of no return.
Below we’ll look at a few of the numerous wildlife species who have a stake in the 2020 election:
The Porcupine caribou herd, named for a nearby river, uses the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for its annual calving grounds. The animals are inextricably linked both to the Gwich’in and Iñupiat people, who rely on caribou as a primary food source, and the local ecosystem.
In August, the Trump administration released a decision that officially opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, disrupting decades of protection for the area. Drilling projects and the infrastructure required to support them would devastate the herd, and by extension the Indigenous communities that depend on them. If re-elected, Trump would likely move forward with oil lease sales in the refuge next year.
Listed as threatened since the year 2000, the Canada lynx has been victimized by fragmentation of its habitat as well as the dense understory vegetation favored by its prey. Road-building, development and an increase in the severity of wildfires brought on by climate change have hurt it, too. Once found as far south as Nevada and in every state along our northern border, the Canada lynx has dwindled to fewer than 2,000 in the contiguous U.S.
The Boundary Waters-Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest make up part of the Canada lynx’s critical habitat. If those places sound familiar, it might be because a proposed sulfide-ore copper mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters, complete with toxic pollution, has been one of the Trump administration’s biggest environmental attacks. If the project is not stopped, the mines will further reduce and fragment lynx habitat and expose the watershed to dangerous contamination.
North Atlantic right whale
There are only a few hundred North Atlantic right whales left in the wild, and experts say they could be extinct in 20 years. Among other factors it’s likely that oceans warmed by climate change have forced them out of their traditional waters and into dangerous encounters with ships.
Trump may have bragged about meeting the “Prince of Whales (sic),” but his relationship with actual whales is awful. In 2017, he threw out rules intended to limit the number of whales killed in fishing nets. In 2019, he gave the go-ahead for the oil industry to hurt whales (including right whales) with seismic air-gun blasting. And in 2020, Trump rolled back protections for seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean that served as vital rest stops for migrating right whales. That action has been challenged in court, but another Trump term would mean more chances to codify it—and a few steps closer to oblivion for these fragile giants.
A huge, regal bird whose name is almost synonymous with back-from-the-brink conservation success stories, the California condor is nonetheless still considered endangered, just as it has been for over 50 years. Among the estimated few hundred birds left in the wild, some are thought to reside in Bears Ears National Monument, which President Trump unlawfully shrunk by 85 percent in 2017. National monument lands, wildlife refuges and other protected places are especially important for the birds' survival, as condors tend to do better in areas with limited human interference and less development. If the Bears Ears rollbacks stay in effect, it will imperil those conditions and stress the scant condor population.
Leatherback sea turtle
One of the Trump administration’s lesser-known attacks on wildlife is its push to allow “longline” fishing in protected waters off the coast of California. This method, which involves floating hundreds of baited hooks in the water at a time, can end up indiscriminately killing sea creatures including leatherback sea turtles, which are listed as endangered and may be headed toward extinction in the next couple of decades.
In January 2020, a U.S. district court blocked those attempts. But despite that victory and the state of California’s efforts to protect the turtle, another Trump term would mean another shot at expanding longline fishing--and more chances to pack the judiciary with ideologically aligned judges who might allow the next attempt to go unchallenged.
The California red-legged frog is one of a number of amphibians (and other animals and plants) threatened by a common herbicide called atrazine, which wreaks havoc on hormone cycles (not to mention its links to cancer and birth defects in humans). Additionally, the frog is at risk due to invasive species and habitat loss from development and farming. Under Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency re-authorized the use of atrazine, prompting fierce protest by conservationists and health advocates. Continued use of atrazine will pose severe threats to the red-legged frog and many other species.
West Indian manatee
The West Indian manatee has benefited greatly from conservation efforts since the 1970s, but it remains vulnerable to human-caused habitat loss, boat collisions and other threats. In 2018, the non-profit Endangered Species Coalition highlighted it as one of 10 species facing dire threats from the Trump administration, largely owing to proposals that would ignore threats to parts of the manatee’s range and its downgrade in protected status from “endangered” to “threatened.”
Additionally, one of the biggest hazards facing manatees is toxic algae blooms known as “red tides,” which science suggests are made more severe by climate change. President Trump, whose policies are driving fossil fuel use and making the climate crisis worse, avoided mentioning that factor in comments about the threat of red tides last year.